Today marks the 2,562nd birthday of a man from Qufu, in what is now Mainland China’s Shandong Province. Named Kong Qiu (孔丘) at birth, he has been better known in the centuries since his death as Master Kong; Kong Fu Zi (孔夫子), or Confucius. His impact on East Asian society, politics, and culture has been enormous, and many aspects of his cultural legacy are still deeply ingrained in societies like Taiwan, South Korea, and elsewhere today.
In celebration of the Great Sage’s birthday, the Taipei Confucius Temple has been playing host to an intricate Confucius Ceremony since 1970. While taking the very strict, historical Confucius Ceremony as its basis, the modern ceremony has been modernised by shortening the rites considerably. Nevertheless, the event still respects many of the traditions that have been passed down through the centuries, including participants wearing period costume, the performance of music composed during the Ming Dynasty, poetry, and dancing.
The ceremony consists of 37 individual rites, each of which is carried out with immaculate precision and great seriousness and there’s an excellent video of each stage on the Temple’s website. Adding further significance and a familial link to Confucius himself, the Taipei ceremony’s current Consecration Officer, Kong Tsui-chang, is the 79th lineal descendant of Confucius: i.e. Confucius is his great, great, great, great, – you get the idea – grandfather. In brief, Confucius’s spirit is welcomed into the Temple, a sacrificial feast, blessings, and respects are then offered, before the Great Sage’s spirit is escorted back out of the Temple through the Dacheng and Lingxing Gates.
It’s unlikely that, given his philosophical emphasis on moderation and self-cultivation, Confucius himself would have devoted much time to ostentatious birthday ceremonies. The occasion of his birthday does, however, prompt us to (re)visit his works and ideas, many aspects of which continue to stand out as sparkling insights into the way we should, could, and might behave today. We’ll leave you to contemplate this quote from the Master himself:
“Learning without thought is labour lost. Thought without learning is perilous.”